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Renewable Energy Depends on the Farm Bill

Colorado is blessed with natural resources vital to renewable energy development. Whether it is bright sunlight, strong and consistent winds, or abundant supplies of biomass from agriculture and forestry, Colorado can reap the benefits of the new energy economy. Our abundant natural resources are supported by thriving research and development network, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, outside of Denver. Colorado has the resources, the know-how, and even the workforce we need to meet our ever-growing demand for energy. Rural America is where the need for new jobs is most acute, and rural Colorado is no exception. Renewable energy development can put rural Americans to work.

But that won’t happen unless the Farm Bill continues to promote renewable energy development. Renewable energy depends upon developing energy resources on our rural lands, and the Farm Bill plays a major role in those efforts. What we call “the Farm Bill” is the primary federal support for our nation’s agricultural productivity, but the bulk of the bill funds food support programs for the disadvantaged, and it also provides programs to ensure national energy security. Today the farm bill is under threat of significant cuts, and renewable energy programs, a small but vital part, are particularly targeted.

The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) could lose its funding. REAP provides grants and loan guarantees to farmers and rural communities for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Every state has rural areas rich in renewable resources, and REAP guarantees bring development projects within reach. REAP projects in every state are creating jobs in rural America, contributing to U.S. energy security, and promoting new markets for agriculture.

Two other vital programs are the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) and the Biorefinery Assistance Program. BCAP encourages farmers to grow dedicated energy crops, and the Biorefinery Assistance Program provides grants and loan guarantees for the construction of advanced biorefineries. Biomass energy has tremendous potential, especially in Colorado. Today, the main biomass feedstocks for power are paper mill residue, lumber mill scrap, and municipal waste. Agricultural residues such as corn stalks, leaves, and husks show great promise, as do crops like perennial grasses and algae. BCAP and the Biorefinery Assistance Program are vital to continued development of this technology.

With a robust energy title in the next farm bill, Congress can help farmers and others in rural America become more energy efficient and more profitable. Congress can ensure that we develop new markets for agricultural and forestry producers. With federal support, farmers and ranchers can continue to make a vital contribution to our food and energy needs, which are crucial to national security. These are all goals worth achieving even in tough economic times.

Farmers and ranchers understand the importance of a balanced budget. But it’s a false economy to cut programs that will lead to significant economic growth. Renewable energy is a rapidly growing industry. We should not handicap our country’s economic growth by cutting vital farm bill energy programs such as REAP, BCAP and Biorefinery Assistance.

As Congress searches for budget savings, please take a moment to tell your representatives that you support the energy title in the Farm Bill.

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